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Reviving The Mountains Competition

The mountains classification for the 2016 Tour de France is set to change. In recent years the points scale was doubled on the final summit finish of the day in a bid to tilt the competition towards the race’s bigger names but it’s meant the mountains jersey has become an afterthought. Chris Froome won the competition this year, a by-product of his fight for yellow. Now it seems points will be doubled on the final climb before a descent in a bid to tempt riders to sprint for the top and perhaps keep going, an incentive to aim for the jersey but also to attack over the top so once again yellow and polka-dot could be combined.

These constant changes mark a problem with the mountains prize, it’s a popular contest but one that seems to struggle to define itself.

Look back at the 2015 Tour de France and who was the best climber? If we mean the King of the Mountains you might have forgotten because Chris Froome won but without it being an obvious objective, it was something conquered on the way to winning the race overall.

In a way posing the question of “who was the best climber” takes us closer to core of the issue, for the jersey is not merely for the rider who wins summit finishes, somewhere in the popular conception is the identity, the archetype of the climber. A climber being a sub-species of the racing cyclist, usually a small and thin rider and the kind who flounders in a time trial and gets bounced around on pavé with often a loner personality too. It’s a myth that’s been sustained thanks to wins by the likes of Charly Gaul, Federico Bahamontes, Lucien Van Impe, Luis Herrera, Robert Millar and Thierry Claveyrolat et al. These names of the past could flourish in the competition because they had something to aim for and often didn’t threaten those going for the yellow jersey. Jacques Anquetil had Bahamontes in check, Van Impe readily accepted he could not beat Eddy Merckx and so on. Crucially these riders and others could get the better of almost anyone else on a climb.

The green jersey is for the rider who lifts their arms in the air for three seconds at the finish line, the polka dot jersey for someone who achieves something enormous
– Jean-René Bernaudeau, in Maillot à Pois by Pierre Carrey

Romantic as ever, Bernaudeau still touches on the jersey’s status and the way it is often won by long raids across the mountains. In recent years this has a more targeted matter with riders winning the jersey though the accumulation of points early in a stage. One of Bernaudeau’s riders, Anthony Charteau, won the competition in 2010 yet even his mother wouldn’t boast he could have rivalled Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador in a straight uphill contest.

If the mountains jersey is in trouble today perhaps the Tour de France itself is the problem? The GC itself has become a giant mountains competition. Look back previous editions of the Tour and they used to reward time triallists a lot more. The chart above suggests this and it only goes back to 2000. In the 1990s it was common to have more, take 1992 where there was 137km of solo time trials with a 63.5km team time trial on top and only two proper summit finishes with Sestriere and Alpe d’Huez: astonishingly different from what we see as the norm these days. Rerun the 1992 route with the 2015 peloton and perhaps Chris Froome would triumph but he’d be joined by others on the podium. Today there are four or five summit finishes in every Tour and more mountain stages on top, the yellow jersey now goes to the rider who drops their rivals on the climbs.

Alternatives
So what to do? The problem is rejigging the points looks like generals who make battle plans based on their last war, that the points are allocated to prevent the previous unwanted scenario from happening and this leads to unintended consequences. In recent years the Tour has moved to stop a “raider” scooping points mid-stage when they’ve been let up the road by the bunch before being reeled in later in the stage. Of course being “let up the road” usually involves a massive effort but this is often invisible to the public as it’s not on TV. In reaction to wins by the likes of Anthony Charteau points have been doubled in the final climb in a way to give the bigger names a better chance.

There could be a “Strava prize” or at least the use of timing mats or the new GPS telemetry systems where riders are timed and the fastest recorded ascent brings the most points, an idea floated by The Cycling Podcast’s Lionel Birnie. Take it to a more absolute scale and it could be decided on cumulative time, like the yellow jersey, but only for all the marked climbs, the shortest cumulative time up all the côtes and over the cols wins. Yet Strava works for training because it simulates a virtual race against others, in the middle of the Tour de France we’d see riders sit in the bunch or be paced by their teams and it’d lack the visual cues of un uomo solo è al comando, “a man alone and in the lead” that cycling venerates or the simple and obvious contest of two riders sprinting for a finish line for the points. In short we’d struggle to see the battle on TV and this could make it hard to follow.

Polka Dot Horse

Another idea would be to abolish the competition altogether. Excessive? Yes but heretical thoughts can inspire reflection. These days it’s becoming a consolation prize: lose time early in the race and you can have a crack at the mountains competition. The jersey and the competition do bring something to the race, if only as a talking point when not much is happening, for example if the yellow jersey competition is sewn-up here is a secondary contest. It works as an incentive scheme in the mountains to encourage attacks, especially long rate moves.

What about another jersey, scrap those polka dots? This is revealing too for it shows the way the polka dot jersey has become iconic to the sport in the way that the mountains jersey in the Giro isn’t. People buy polka dot socks and some even decorate their horses for the day. In other words the jersey has become essential to the imagery of the Tour de France.

Romain Bardet Tour de France

Conclusion
An iconic jersey in the sport, the mountains competition of the Tour de France seems to be struggling to define itself. Rejigging the points is a solution but cannot guarantee a satisfactory outcome. Indeed fiddling with the rules seems problematic, scratching an itch rather than tackling the underlying problem. The Tour de France knows that mountain stages are ratings jackpots and contemporary routes for the race ensure four to five decisive summit finishes. The 2016 Tour will test a new points scale but it’ll also see one uphill time trial making the yellow jersey dependent on the mountains too. The best climber will wear a yellow jersey.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • steve Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 10:25 am

    Personally I am just getting sick of seeing anorexic skeletons go up mountains comparing watts per kg. It makes me prefer the scenery to the actual racing. I like in recent editions of the tour having more varied terrain and would like to see a route which favours more rouleur style riders.

    • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 1:09 pm

      But it’s how the riders choose to ride – Nibali and Contador, for instance, often don’t ride in that manner – they have to counter the more ‘robotic’ riders’ style.

    • Anonymous Thursday, 5 November 2015, 10:59 pm

      Can’t agree more!

  • Michael K Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 10:59 am

    I still think they should ban power meters from competition.

    • Billybob Thornton Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:46 am

      And why is that? They don’t give anyone an advantage since all have access to them equally. What’s unsporting or irregular about wanting to accurately spread your efforts or ride to a tempo? Effectively, you want to ban having knowledge of your own body.

      • gabriele Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:28 pm

        Maybe he wants to reward “knowledge of your own body” versus “information about your own body”.

        • Ferdi Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 9:26 pm

          Exactly. Knowledge of your own body coupled with mental fortitude in the absence of objective information.

      • mabarbie Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:56 pm

        Nothing wrong with wanting to accurately spread your effort, but does it make good racing? These guys train hard for month upon month with all the training aids they have at their disposal, however when it comes to racing I think it should be them, the bike and the parcours. They should have built up their knowledge of their body while training.

        • Dan Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 3:53 pm

          I think when you consider Bardet was having to buy his own power meters a year or so ago, it means the elite teams are potentially have a huge advantage by being able to learn from this data and put it into action.

          Either way, give me a Tommy Voeckler any day

    • Jeff R Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:46 pm

      I really like this idea! There is something to be said for knowing one’s abilities and for racing against your competitors, rather than staring at your data and executing a pre-planned program.

      • noel Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 4:09 pm

        hey, and what about banning race radios??? (ok, sorry..)

        • dee f Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:39 pm

          If noel is trying to say that standing against power meters has no difference from opposing to the use of race radios, I should say that I disagree -if I got it wrong, sorry noel. We all know that the most effective argument of the pro-race radio standpoint is based on security and I believe this is where all opposing arguments should stop – safety first. But power meters issue is about something else. Surely, Chris Froome did not take that power and stamina to win the Tour from the power meter on his bike. But mental strength is just as important in all kinds of sports and cycling is probably one of the most challenging ones. I my humble opinion, objective data which is provided by power meters helps to those who lack in mental power. Following the instructions of the machine also requires a huge amount of mental strength, but not the kind which people expect from athletes – that’s why many people think power-meter-riders are robot-like. It is not just about knowing how much power one is producing in a given moment. It’s more about not being deceived by your body and think that you’re pushing as hard as you were at the beginnig of that climb. Argument against race radios might be based on the enjoyment of the audience -which, I should say, sounds quite cruel considering the potential dangers for riders especially in low-budget races. But power meters do not just decrease our enjoyment. It also significantly decreases the impact of mental strenght in the competition.

          • J Evans Thursday, 5 November 2015, 11:47 am

            Whether or not radios increase safety is a moot point (and they could only be for safety instructions from the race organiser) – as is whether or not they make racing more dull (many on both sides will claim that there are definites), but most low-budget races don’t have them anyway (they’re only allowed in World Tour races).

          • J Evans Thursday, 5 November 2015, 11:48 am

            I totally agree with you on power meters.

      • Strictly Amateur / The GCW Monday, 9 November 2015, 5:27 am

        Something else about power meters;

        They are used also for the effect of added weight.

        Equipment has become lighter and there has been a need to add heavy pieces to get to regulation weight.

        The current weight requirement is outdated and it’s time to lower it.

        If bikes were allowed to wight 13 lbs. for instance, rather than 15 lbs, then teams and riders will be more selective of using things like wide aero wheels, heavy components and power meters.

        The claim that if bikes were allowed to be lighter, they would be unsafe simply is an unexceptable lie. -Riders add ballast… -choose heavy equipment to make weight…

        The current weight limitation is tweaking.

        It seems geared toward marketing and bike & component companies.

        • The Inner Ring Monday, 9 November 2015, 10:27 am

          This is under review and an announcement should be expected in 2016.

  • Augie March Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:17 am

    2012 was a good year for showing what the KOM competition should be like. Good old Thomas Voeckler always attacking aggressively away and taking two impressive mountain stage wins, and in completely different style of riding from the metronomic Wiggins doggedly TTing his way up hill and down dale with a surly Froome as guide.

    I welcome a re-jig, anything to help clarify what the polka dot jersey means. The green jersey likewise is a bit nebulous these days, and many lively debates about this have played out on this blog. I would argue that the best sprinter in the 2015 Tour was clearly Andre Griepel, but then he doesn’t have Sagan’s ability to finish second on hilly stages as well as flat ones, so lost out in the arithmetic.

    • Vedrafjord Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:07 pm

      Yep, the back and forth between Voeckler and Kessiakoff was great and is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen any more with the current rules.

      What I think is important is to try and make it a 3 week competition. The first HC MTF basically wipes out everything that’s happened in the mountains in week 1, and the points are usually so backloaded that a rider can do nothing for almost two weeks and then win the whole thing with a couple of stage wins, like Majka did last year.

      • Augie March Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:43 pm

        Very true. I know the geography of France is more limited than that of Spain in this regard, but I like the “big hills on stage 2” kind of idea that the Vuelta has done in recent years, it shakes things up. Why should the sprinters be shut out between mid race and the Champs, and why should the real KOM contenders get to just sit in the peloton while a breakaway artist wears the spots with all of 4 points to their name? Plus this focus on an ever increasing “tough first week” and the inevitable back-to-back mountain stages in the third week means that second often sags a bit with mostly medium mountain stages for the breakaways now that the ASO lacks the courage to throw down a 60km TT which would force the climbers to actually do more than hang on until the final day or two.

      • Anonymous Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 10:56 pm

        + 1 regarding 2012 KOM competition, which was terrific.

    • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:44 pm

      Griepel lost out because Sagan was the most consistent rider – which is what the points jersey has always been awarded for (over the years, many ‘best sprinters’ have not won the competition). The answer would be a separate sprinter’s jersey (but a max. of four jerseys allowed), but I’m sure Griepel’s four stage wins are ample compensation.
      Love the Froome as surly guide comment!

      • Anonymous Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:19 pm

        Sorry for being pedantic, till now I always managed to stay quiet about “Griepel”, but before it spreads anymore: It is GREIPEL. You don’t write Wigigns or Fromoe either.

        • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:45 pm

          Fair do’s (I like a bit of pedantry): I have to admit I thought it might be, but couldn’t be bothered to check, so I just copied the comment I was replying to.

          • Augie March Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:53 pm

            I apologise for making you look bad then, and to the Gorilla.

        • Francisco Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:22 pm

          It’s an easy mistake to make, due to the phonetics of English and German.

  • weeclarky Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:25 am

    i like the cumulative time idea – we already watch 2 races in 1 on many days [gc vs stage chaos], so adding in an extra gc-like story might be neat. In fact, you can imagine very strange scenarios with riders holding back to be in last place for an effective time trial up the last climb – knowing how well the previous guy did…

    • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 1:23 pm

      But amongst all the other action on the stage, no-one would see this time trial up the last climb: we’d just learn later on that rider X had gone up faster than everyone else.
      Also, as Gabriele says about Froome doing the GC/KoM double (what would in previous years have been a very impressive feat), the achievement is diminished if it has come about because of an unconvincing change in the rules. Would you really be that impressed or excited about rider X winning the KoM if he did it in the manner you describe? For me, that’s not a race.

      • Chris J Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 3:40 pm

        I like the idea too – that way the jersey would be a true reflection of the fastest climber of the Tour – although I recognise that it may not work as well in practice. I guess this is where the new technology would really need to come in. If you had a live, realtime display on the TV screen of the KoM contenders and their times up the current climb, that could provide drama and intrigue on early stage climbs that would otherwise be largely irrelevant to the broader narrative other than for GC contenders making sure they stick with their rivals over the top. I think it would be really fascinating to see who has truly been the fastest up all the categorized climbs in the Tour and should help separate the competition from the GC. Could also perhaps help identify riders that could be deserving of a lead role within their teams at future Tours?

        But I think the article is right about it being a problem of the Tour itself, given the recent focus on climbing and particularly on summit finishes. (I’d personally like to see a bit more in the way of ITT km, although I appreciate it doesn’t make for the most compelling of spectacles.) It isn’t surprising Froome won both jerseys, given this fact. That said, you could make a strong argument for Froome being the best climber and therefore a deserving winner of the jersey anyway, even if this hasn’t always been true of recent KoM winners.

        • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 3:58 pm

          So, rather than see riders racing for the KoM points, you want to read about it on your screen?

          • Chris J Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 6:03 pm

            That’s the thing, they would be racing for it specifically, as opposed to just earning it accidentally in winning the GC. But I do get your point. As I said, I do appreciate that it may not work perfectly in practice, but at least it would create a climbers jersey that actually went to the person who had climbed the fastest, and help remove the competition from the shadow of the GC. That has to be better than the non-event we have now?

          • Elliot Thursday, 5 November 2015, 5:03 pm

            Agree with weeclarky & Chris J. Not a perfect solution maybe, but no-one seems to have that. Worth a go for a year or two to see how it works out? As J Evans says, it’s the riders who make the race, and you might end up with strong climbers on weaker teams making polka a real fight over the three weeks – thinking especially of the current French batch (Bardet, Pinot, Barguil…) who can’t seem to compete with Froome/Contador/Quitana/Nibali for yellow, but for whom a polka jersey in Paris would immense, so might lead to a captivating tussle.

    • noel Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 4:08 pm

      all sounds a bit contrived to me. And it wouldn’t prove who ‘is the best climber in the race’ as it would exclude all the super domestics who burn themselves up and drop off with 3km to go, to save some matches for the following days.
      I really think the simpler the better, a certain number of points for each category, and if the Yellow Jersey wins it so be it, if a Pro Conti team target it, and can make it work, fantastic. All this messing about just devalues it in the long run, in my opinio.n

  • Cri de Coeur Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:36 am

    Its pathetic. Froome won Yellow AND Polka Dots but as far as I can see barely anyone cares and it has not been lauded as the achievement it actually is. Not done before for over 40 years! No, instead they want to change the rules so he can’t do it in future (or, in fact, any GC contender). Sagan gets the same schtick when the change the rules for Green. But he still won anyway.

    I hate all this fiddling. I hate that organisers regard every lump as ratings and don’t respect the event as a race that should play out.

    • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:49 am

      You’re right but this proves the point, a rare achievement but barely celebrated.

      • gabriele Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:38 pm

        That’s also because probably a good number of cycling fans aren’t that mass of dull viewers the sport is convinced it needs to address, hence they recognize what a feat implies – and if it has been achieved as such or as a result of an ultimately unconvincing change in the rules.
        Same may go the other way around, that is, a success can be celebrated even more than usual if it comes *against* a changing rule: Sagan’s green jersey has been hugely celebrated this year, and righlty so, more than in previous editions (when it ended up being looked down as an inconvenience).

    • Fletch Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:03 pm

      Time bonuses might be a factor in Chris Froome being the first double winner in while.

      Attempting to finish high on the stage means that GC contenders were less satisfied with letting no hopers up the road to mop up all the bonuses. As a side effect they didn’t mop up all the mountain points leaving some for the GC guys. GC guys who also needed to spint for the line for time bounses, collecting mountain points as a side effect.

      (someone will have to check the stage results to see if this is bourne out by the stats.)

      I think the reason Froome was not lauded as a great for winning both competitions is because he won the mountains jersery by default rather than having to to something above and beyond things that he was doing to win yellow.

      But INRNG is spot on, the reason the polka dot is not the prize it once was is because the best climber will always wear yellow these days.

      • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:49 pm

        Time bonuses – contrary to popular assumption – tend to lead to less attacking racing in grand tours (for the reasons you give): in smaller stage races, they often decide the race and are more necessary.

        • Anonymous Thursday, 5 November 2015, 11:04 pm

          I think that time bonuses should be abandoned since they are an artificial instrument to influence a race’s outcome. It is more honest without them.

      • maximflyer Thursday, 5 November 2015, 6:52 am

        Agree.
        Recent routes favor climbers. No wonder that the polka dots goes to GC riders.
        If ASO wants to have a separate competition for polka dots they should bring back the 100+ kms ITTs.

    • Anonymous Thursday, 5 November 2015, 2:27 am

      Actually, in your comment is an argument for chnging the rules and not against it. You could argue that up till the changing of the rules some people were accusing Sagan of “cruising” (that is actually really what someone once wrote in a comment!!!) to his green jerseys. Now that ASO changed the point systems to adress that, the win of the green jersey by Sagan is seen again as what it was the whole time: A real achievement and that achievement was widely celebrated. People were keen to see, if he could win again with the changed score and really paid attention to the competition. Therefore you could argue that with the changing of the rules ASO absolutely achieved, what they set out to do: Give the green jersey new meaning and greater importance. So, if you follow this argument, the same could become true for the mountain competition. And if the winner of the Tour next year also wins the polka dot jersey, people could really start to care, because they know that it was made harder for him to achieve that. Just saying…

  • Hammarling Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:54 am

    Radical Idea Time: Don’t give KoM points on the final climb of the day.
    Theory: If the complaints are that the KoM is being won by a GC favorite ‘by accident’, well then take away their ability to do so. This would shift the competition massively in favor of the breakaway style riders and leave the GC boys going for the GC.

    Thinking that the KoM should be for the best climber doesn’t work these days. GT’s in general are now almost all about the climbing. And no longer do we get crazy all-day solos across the high mountains by a pure climber in an attempt to shake things up. Partly this is because we’ve lost a lot of pro-doping so riders simply can’t do it physically anymore.

    The best competitions have been those fought out by riders willing to go in the breakaway. The KoM isn’t for the Best Climber anymore and it shouldn’t be, just like the Points Competition isn’t for the Best Sprinter.

    • Cri de Coeur Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:13 pm

      Why shouldn’t a GC guy be able to win the KOM? Its all so false and contrived.

      • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:11 pm

        It’s not that he should not be able to, it’s that because the final climbs were given double points, Froome had to make very little extra effort (if any – I don’t remember him trying to win any extra points on earlier climbs – anyone else?) to win the KoM prize – it came as a consequence of winning the race. That makes it a bit of a non-competition (and can’t have meant very much to Froome).
        Actually, it would be very interesting to know who would have won the KoM had the points not been doubled for the final climbs. If the answer is still ‘Froome’, then it’s an impressive feat.
        Any stat fans out there?

        • Nick Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 8:21 pm

          The answer is still Froome. He gained 45 points from the double finals. Lopping those off would give him 74, which would still leave him narrowly ahead of Bardet, who’d be down to 72. In fact, only person would come in to the top 10: Nibali, who finished 11th on the official version, would hop up to 9th, pushing out Porte (who proportionally gained the most from this rule). The same 20 people would make up the top 20, but with some reshuffling.

          Revised standings:
          1. Froome 74 (down 45)
          2. Bardet 72 (down 18)
          3. Quintana 64 (down 44)
          4. Rolland 58 (down 16)
          5. Pauwels 55 – the only person in the top 10 whose score was unchanged
          6. Rodriguez 53 (down 25)
          7. Pinot 52 (down 30)
          8. Fuglsang 44 (down 20)
          9. Nibali 43 (down 10)
          10. Valverde 41 (down 31)

          So I’m not sure that doubling the points made as much of a difference to the KoM competition as time bonuses did or having 5 mountain top finishes in the first place.

          • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 9:28 pm

            Thanks Nick. Maybe we should all be more impressed by Froome’s double feat (although, of course, with riders knowing the different rules, they may have ridden differently – e.g. Bardet might have pushed somewhere for 3 extra points).
            It’s also notable that Froome and Quintana’s points drop by much more than Bardet and Rolland’s.

          • Chris J Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:01 pm

            Really interesting. Thanks.

    • gabriele Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:59 pm

      “Partly this is because we’ve lost a lot of pro-doping so riders simply can’t do it physically anymore”.

      Yeah, when doping technology wasn’t able to provide anything comparable to present *legal* pharmacological, technological and alimentary support (with a notable relevance of the intersection among the three)… that is, until the 70s at least – well, you know, the riders “simply couldn’t do it physically”, no “crazy all-day solos across the mountains” were there to be seen ^__^

      You may also observe that long range attacks – albeit not always as a lone action – have become relatively more common in recent years, both for the stage win and by GC men. We’ve got fine examples in, like, *every* GC this year, plus interesting situations in a couple of shorter stage races. They are still sort of an exception (as they’ve always been, generally speaking), but they’ve become more and more common in the last five years, I’d even say that during this period we’ve got more GTs with some examples of that than not (not to speak of shorter stage races, from which I can recall plenty of episodes, even older).

      • gabriele Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 1:00 pm

        Errata corrige: “…fine examples in, like, every GT this year…”

  • Pelican VC Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:54 am

    In my opinion, faffing around with novelty points systems seems to be ignoring the real issue; the mountains classification has been diminished because GC in Grand Tours is now all about being the best climber. The TT km’s chart says it all – if you want a proper mountains competition, you’d need to design a parcours that favoured an actual ‘all-rounder’ for the GC – ie. more medium mountains and TT’s.

    The upshot of that a GC like that could also mean that we’d return to seeing the GC winners racing all year round, which nearly everyone seems to pine for. The likes of Geraint Thomas, for example, could race the classics and compete for GC in Grand Tours, without having to sacrifice one for the other (as seems to be the plan for 2016, sadly), just like Hinault/Merckx/etc… used to.

    Of course, the problem everyone usually cites with having more TT’s km’s is that they’re ‘boring’ or ‘not good for TV’, but did Grand Tours really only get exciting post-2008, when the big reduction in TT km’s started? The trick is to design interesting TT courses – out/back on a motorway obviously is boring to watch, but rolling, technical terrain, which tests bike handling skills as well as watts/cda would hopefully be a lot more watchable (see stage 17, 2013 Tour).

    • Augie March Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:58 am

      +1

    • Cri de Coeur Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:18 pm

      A very, very sensible comment. But in the Wiggins/Froome era is the anti-ITT Prudhomme really going to slot in a 59kms ITT (as the Giro did this year) knowing full well it puts one Froome-shaped hand on the title already? Mr Ratings wouldn’t do that. But I strongly agree with you that all GTs should be a test of ALL ROUND skills and not a mountains contest.

      • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:59 pm

        When did it become ‘the Wiggins/Froome era’?

        • Anonymous Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 4:42 pm

          When they won 3 out of the last 4 Tours

          • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 4:48 pm

            And there are no other races.
            Just to take one example, how is this the Wiggins era (one TDF victory) more than it is the Nibali era (one of each grand tour)?

    • Vedrafjord Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:19 pm

      I think the technology is there now to provide real-time gaps in TTs or even virtual head to heads as is done in skiing. What’s boring about time trials right now is there are only the two splits and the finish line, the rest of the time you’re just looking at a cyclist’s arse with not much idea of how they’re going.

    • Sam Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:58 pm

      I’m not sure those days of ‘racing all the year around’ (as per as top guys are concerned) are coming back any time soon, irrespective of what anyone does to try to change things.

      Allan Peiper articulates things why in a Velonews inteview with Allan Peiper just published on their site:

      ‘VN: Back in your day, it seemed like there were only three or four riders who could win any grand tour, but it appears in today’s peloton there are more legitimate candidates for victory.
      AP: I still think there are still those top-tier guys, but I think there are guys who are just under them, who are preparing well, who are organizing and planning for specific events, and they step up to the front line. That’s a big different. Twenty or 30 years ago, we all rode the same races, we all had the same program, and we just raced the whole year. Eddy Merckx rode 150 races a year. My guys are racing 75 days a year. Everyone has major goals for every race they go to now. There are no more training races. When the flag drops, there’s a breakaway forming right away. The toughness of the sport is getting eve(n) more demanding. The speeds they are riding, and the veracity of the finals are harder, and those are the big changing factors. That means that you have to be even more specific in everything you’re doing, so winning is even harder

      http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/11/news/peiper-on-grand-tour-doubles-its-not-getting-any-easier_388612#608PgFi5eQuUyQ7O.99

    • Larry T. Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 3:30 pm

      +1 The key would be to avoid the old “defend in the mountains, then mow ’em down in the chrono” scenario with chrono stages that were not pure watts/drag exercises. I was thinking about this while reading the piece – if the Tour could be more balanced, then the KOM would mean more. Bike racing needs to require and reward more SKILL. PED’s don’t help much there. While we’re fixing things I’d ban chrono bikes and any sort of “chrono” position. I still believe so-called “aero” handlebars have reduced the individual against-the-clock stages to pure wattage contests by virtue of making everyone’s drag numbers too similar. Tiny guys like Charlie Mottet used to win chrono stages back-in-the-day. These days GC success seems to be formulaic: take a fairly large, strong guy with a good-sized engine (heart/lungs) then strip off as much weight as you can. He defends in the mountains and mows ’em down in the chrono, ala BigMig. I don’t believe any of the other “techno” advances (radio earpieces, power meters, etc.) have improved the show either, so if I was the king of cycling that stuff would be sh_t-canned too. And before you start with the “You can’t stop technological evolution!” rants – you CAN. That’s why they still have to pedal the things!

      • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 4:04 pm

        +1. Obviously.

        A lot of the ‘techno’ people seem to want to read a statistical analysis on their screen rather than watching a race.
        As for the other technology, as you say, if it doesn’t make the racing better, get rid of it – that definitely goes for TT bikes. (Same goes for power meters: there’s no proof that riders are riding to the meter, but they definitely don’t add anything.) Get them on proper bikes and make the parcours more challenging. Then it’s a race, mano a mano.

    • gabriele Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 4:58 pm

      I think that since the Tour embraced its “new” style in 2008-2009 – with the *curious* exception of 2012, obviously, which is even more flashy when seen in its whole historical context – the Giro tended to have as many ITT kms as the Tour… or more. I’d dare to say that from 2008 to 2016 the Giro has presented more kms of ITT than the Tour in most editions. If’ve got five minutes, I’ll check it out.
      Even more relevant, the Giro had an impressive series of great ITT, quite long and technical, such as Valdobbiadene, Barolo, Saltara, Urbino, Riomaggiore… Great stuff. I never found the uphill ITT as convincing, perhaps the Monte Grappa one was the best in recent years.

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 11:58 am

    The “problem” is, that a cycling race isn’t visible for people who casually tune in – with three exceptions: 1.Going up a mountain -everybody can imagine that this is hard,2. sprinting – everybody can see that something is happening, 3. a solo break away – everybody can see that it is one person against a whole lot of others, so it is a classic race situation. Therefore we have rewards for these three things – the climbing, the sprinting (yes, I know that it is in reality simply a point jersey, not a sprint jersey, but for the wide public, it is the sprinter’s competition) and the most aggressive rider. I thought yesterday, when reading the part II of 2015 highlights: our sport still is often in reading much better or just as good, as in viewing. That is why the sport went through such a dramatic change, when the time of the old newspapers was over. Up till then the race often was as good as the writer was (a beautiful situation!)- now we see the actual true race and find out it is hard and expensive to translate to the viewers. And I do think this is about much more than the KOM-jersey, it is still a symptom of the same “illness”: How to visually translate a cyclingrace to as much people as possible in the short time that modern tv/media give you for that? Because we may have fun watching 6hours of racing with all it’s tiny things happening, but we are not really interesting for the people in charge, 6hours racing just is in the way of how they want cycling to be. We are moving away from the heroic longdistance, as hard as possible adventures, away from human vs nature and towards the visual fast and furious action. That is why I think (and in my personal case: fear), we are only at the beginning of seeing the racing change dramatically. Btw: Cycling always was a giant race between race organisers and riders: the races trying to get good racing out of the riders (often with only the poor recipe of making it harder) the riders trying to get as easy to their goal as possible, so I don’t see trying new things in reaction to the last year’s race as critical.

    • Dr Manhattan Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:46 pm

      We may be veering off the original topic (the state of the KOM jersey) here and into familiar and recurring terrain of how to make cycling appealing to the broader public without ruining it for the afficionados. But what the hell:

      I think – and I know this will rile Statler and Waldorf – cycling should seriously consider stepping into the 21st century and utilize available technology and data to help explaing cycling to – that’s right – the broader public. Remember, we were all neo-cyclingfans once (I vaguely remember when just about all I cared about was summit or sprint finishes, because otherwise I had no clue as to what was going on).

      GPS and power data give ample opportunities to explain the intricacies of cycling (power spent towing bunch vs hiding in it, contributing in breakaway vs hanging on, dragging a climbers body vs a Kittel type over a mountain) and maybe a few new jerseys/prizes: The pinstriped King of Domestiques jersey to the rider spending the most power protecting his leader, the golden bidon to the rider carrying the most litres of water…

      It’s a brave new world and cycling should be a part of it!

      • Anonymous Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 1:38 pm

        Sorry, it’s my fault, I may have explained it not well enough: I think these two things are the same-the problems the various jerseys in stage races have, becoming more and more unimportant/meaningless vs the GC (or being all held by the top three in GC) and the way racing and the races develop or get developed to access new viewers. Because everything in pro cycling is streamlining (from Velon over rules to training) and sadly also dumbing down in an effort to break away from a niche sport into being a big player amongst the stars (a desire awakened by the Armstrong-years and fueled by the changing landscape of professional cycling. The people in charge of the sport still think that these times were just the beginning of how things should be, instead of realising that it was a giant bubble that was bound to burst one day. It was the exception not the rule). And I think part of this is also down to the change of the medium that cycling uses to communicate with it’s fans, away from primarly reading (with viewing of the big races) towards viewing with the odd reading in between. Personally I don’t need and don’t want to watch numbers (aside from timegaps) on my tv-screen, I rather see a person and try to decipher the body and bike language. But that is just my personal view, because I feel I get distracted by things like heartrate from rider x from seeing and feeling the race.

      • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 3:04 pm

        Am I Statler or Waldorf?

      • Richard S Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 3:22 pm

        Once you’ve seen once that Froome uses circa 2o0 watts twiddling along in the peleton compared to 500 watts buzzing up the last climb why do you need to see it again? Likewise Kittel or Grepiel produce 1500 watts compared to 1200 by Cavendish in a sprint because they are bigger. Again, once this has been explained once you don’t need to be told every time. I’m not convinced it being on screen is any help anyway, especially in a sprint. Are you going to watch the racers or the numbers in the corner of the screen?!

        • Steve Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 3:31 pm

          Good point however live visuals on the tv screen of some kind of power output would make it a better viewing experience like F1. Equally some kind of commentary and analysis with live on screen graphics might improve the experience. Watching cycling on tv sometimes makes the television production look extremely ancient.

          • Sam Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 4:09 pm

            well, for starters F1 consists of cars being raced around one single circuit 50-80 times. And in increasingly boring and sanitised circuits. oh look, there’s a tyre mark (just for a bit of variety).

            No bloody wonder the fans have embraced on-screen data and graphics. God knows, with the racing having become increasingly boring too, I dont blame them. Over last 2 seasons, the wins shared between just 3 drivers and 3 constructors. Whoopee.

      • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 3:41 pm

        A good commentator can describe all these things that you mention: that’s how you learn about the racing. That and reading about cycling.
        We were all neo-cyclingfans once and then we became cycling fans because the sport interested us.
        I would suggest that very few people are going to become interested in a sport because of the barrage of stats rolling across their screen. These stats very quickly become repetitive and dull.
        As for the new prizes, how about the tartan jersey for best wheelie whilst juggling? The more jerseys you have the more meaningful they become!

        • Steve Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 7:54 pm

          I’m not a ‘neo-cycling fan’ but the whole point I was trying to make is that for casual sports fans or even just curious channel hoppers the whole tv presention of cycling is abysmal where coverage stops on eurosport straight after the finish with little or meaningful after-show type discussion. The whole television coverage is a bit archaic I was merely thinking of how other sports make a big deal out of visuals on screen, replays etc

          • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 8:00 pm

            My reply was to Dr Manhattan.

  • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:35 pm

    Hadn’t thought of the reduced TT km being a big reason for the mountains prize suffering – top stuff Inner Ring.
    Thing is, I don’t think I’d want to go back to the old way of having so many TT km. Riders like Indurain dominated so totally because of that.
    But there’s probably a happy medium, which currently the Tour has swung too far the other way from – although this year is a lot closer than last year and I think a mountain TT is a good idea for the race generally.
    I think the only way with the mountains points is to go back to the old way and accept that sometimes there will be a winner who is of the ‘raider’ type. The ‘Strava prize’ idea would be dull to watch. Hopefully, this latest points system will tip it away from the GC riders a bit. (The mistake with the 2015 system is that it actively discourages long range attacks to take mountain points because you know that the GC riders will take double points at the – often HC cat. – finish.)
    What ASO really needs to do is to make riders/teams want to win this prize like they used to. But I don’t know how they can do that – as a start, I’ve suggested in the past giving more money for this prize than the woefully low current amount: that’s not going to make a huge difference, but if it was – say – 100,000 Euros for winning this people would think it was more important. (You’d have to do the same for the points jersey – I’d skim a little off the GC and stage winners’ prize funds to pay for it.)

  • ocaz Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 12:52 pm

    I really like idea of it been based cumulative time of the major climbs, they need to ensure they were true climbs not 1 point token climbs they have in early stages for example. They should embrace technology to use GPS data to calculate the times, (GPS placed in a helmet it case of bike changes?) which could be shown to viewers in real time – current top 5 fastest times for example.

    They could also award time bonuses purely for KOM competition based on reaching the summit first, these could be significant to avoid people just sitting back in the pack/within teams and force people to attack to reach the summit first as well as get a good time up it.

    Teams could obviously pace contenders up the climb but in a way that is what they do for GC contenders until they attack to gain time. Also on real mountains, riders generally don’t ride in packs, the group becomes fragmented and with the time bonuses it would push those to attack to gain the time.
    It could be like a mini GC competition for the mountains. By rights it would go to the strongest climber that way in my opinion.

    • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 4:08 pm

      Just swap helmets.

  • Larrick Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 1:05 pm

    As others have said, to win GC you need to be a top climber therefore if you want a comp for polka dots that rewards a climber, you have to accept it may well go to the overall winner.

    The only new idea I can think of is to give it based on accumulated time, like GC, but only on stages with categorised climbs. It may still go to a Froome or Q but it would reward breakaway wins and consistency as well.

  • Rik VII Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 1:45 pm

    ASO intends to reward the best climber with the polka-dot jersey as the the best sprinter with the green jersey. The result ist a useless and boríng classification that gives an unwanted bonus to the yellow Jersey holder. I´d like to see a guy who attacks in the mountain in the polka-dot, someone who fights for the Jersey, not someone who isn´t even interested. It´s not about the best climber – Froome or Quintana -; it´s about the mountains.

    Btw.: “Strava prize” is even worse. 1. Too complicatet. 2. Another useless GC (much easier: take the GC without TT´s and call it GPM. 3. I don´t like to see riders slowing down after each climb an accelerate only after the beginning of the next climb.

    • Head-scratcher Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 5:57 pm

      “It’s not about the best climber … it’s about the mountains.”

      Riiiiiiiiiiiight …………

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:07 pm

    I’d integrate the intermediate sprints into the mountains jersey, and even out the points to create a breakaway classification, with x amount of points shared equally amongst the amount of riders who cross the line in the front group:

    i.e. 1 rider can scoop all 20 points, or 4 riders could grab 5.

    Why not a sprint to the line for placings? Because attacking isn’t waiting for a kick to the line, it’s a solo break same time before that to be the best by far. This would create battles kilometres from the top of otherwise meaningless flat sections or hills and mountains that would otherwise be footnotes.

    The Green jersey would the become solely about the placings at the finish line.

    • J Evans Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 4:17 pm

      This is an interesting idea, but too complicated, I think – and lacking any real meaning. Plus, there is already the most combative rider award (although this being awarded by jury means it’s massivley flawed – maybe they could adapt your idea for this?)
      Overall, I think Richard S, below, sums it up best – just have a regular climbing competition as there always was and make the GC less climbing-focused.
      And as Larry T says above, you can make TTs less about pure strength and aero if you make the parcours more difficult and make them ride normal bikes (and with normal helmets).
      A lot of complicated and unnecessary ideas here (and from ASO) – just make it simple and all about racing.

      • Anonymous Thursday, 5 November 2015, 12:26 am

        Yeah obviously that’s another simpler option, but I always think it better to throw out a new idea and try adding to the conversation.

  • Richard S Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:10 pm

    People seem pre-occupied that the ‘best’ climber has to win the KOM and the ‘best’ sprinter has to win the green jersey. How about the most consistent and smart wins? Plus I’m fairly sure a sprint up the final climb at 500 watts for 25 minutes a la Froome requires a different type of effort than a long raid over 4 climbs over a day, over a few days. Just give 50 points at the top of every HC, 40 on a Cat 1, 30 on a Cat 2, 20 on a Cat 3 and 10 on a Cat 4 (or some sort of other descending scale) and be done with it. It worked well enough for long enough. And the TT mileage is also a good point. The further the tiny climbers (Rodriguez, Quintana?) are from the GC race the more they’ll think about the KOM. There should never be a Grand Tour with less than 100km TTing in my opinion. As someone else has said these don’t have to be pan flat. 5 summit finishes is also way too much. Have mountain days by all means, but they don’t always have to finish at the top of some tarmaced goat track next to a ski lift. France isn’t all mountains, so it shouldn’t be all about the climbers. That’s what the Vuelta is for!

    As an interesting aside, what would people suggest the podium would have looked like with Indurian/Hinault era levels of TTing? An all Sky top 4 of Froome, Porte, Thomas and Kirienka?!

    • Richard S Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:22 pm

      Also, is the lack of TT’s down to boosting TV ratings in general, or boosting TV ratings in France? The French have a lot of good young climbers at the moment who don’t know which end of a time trial bike to sit on. In the 1980’s there were a lot of very long time trials. Entirely unrelated to the fact that the best time trialist of the day was French of course.

      • Augie March Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 2:49 pm

        Good point. I commented that when the 2015 route was released it was pretty much a sop to Thibaut Pinot and Roman Bardet, it would be almost impossible to design a course more favourable to the sort of riders France seems to be producing at the moment.

        • Anonymous Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 3:51 pm

          Because Pinot and Bardet have such good TTT squads?

          • Augie March Thursday, 5 November 2015, 1:54 am

            It was a short TTT and besides, both FDJ and AG2R were only about 90 seconds down on BMC’s winning time, if it had been a long individual TT Pinot and Bardet could have surrendered 3 minutes plus.

  • Samuel Pickwick Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 6:29 pm

    A predictable opportunity for the usual “If I Ruled the World” suspects to go off on one (or ten) didn’t disappoint.

    The nub, as stated in the final sentence of the OP, and as others have said, is that GC in Le Tour and the other GTs now rewards climbing prowess as never before. The KING of the Mountains is going to be a GC podium contender or someone who would be save for some particular circumstance of the race.

    For those who advocate the long-range breakaway artist as both a worthy KOM and a guarantee of an exciting competition – where was Omar Fraile in this year’s Vuelta when the climbing got serious? And where were those thrilling fights for the points that he had on the road with his competitors for the jersey?

    What is so tinglingly wonderful about watching the day’s break ride tempo up a succession of mountains and then – if you’re lucky – have a 5-second sprint for the KOM points? If you’re unlucky, of course, and more usually, there’s not even a sprint because either the jersey holder is in the break (so he’s allowed to win it uncontested) or nobody cares about the KOM anyway.

    In that currently common scenario, you get the worst of both worlds – a lousy competition and a guy whose mum wouldn’t recognise him as King of any mountains.

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 6:54 pm

      Yes, everyone should just accept that the competition is rubbish now and not think of any way of changing it. (It used to be good, by the way – top climbers tried to win it and it had a lot of kudos. That’s very much the point.)
      And I certainly don’t come here to read opinions on cycling.

      • Is Modern Life Rubbish? Friday, 6 November 2015, 12:35 am

        But is the competition rubbish now? That’s the meme, yes – but is the meme a myth?

        The jersey changed hands three times in the last week and top climbers – Froome, Quintana, Rodriguez and Bardet – tried to win it.

        • Rik VII Friday, 6 November 2015, 10:04 am

          No, oviously Froome and Quintana aren’t intereset in winning the GPM. The’ve won, because ASO gave 50 pts for an hors categorie 10 pts for a 1st category uphill finish and only 25 an 10 pts for other hc- an 1stc-climbs . So Froome got 50 pts at Col de la Pierre Saint-Martin, 4 at Plateau de Beille, 12 at La Toussuire, an 24 at Alpe d’Huez. 90 out of 119 pts at stage finishes where he fought fir the yellow jersey a/o the stage win an dnot for the GPM plus another 29 pts by staying on the whell of teammates a/o opponents. I never sprintet in a single occaison for the GPM-points. Why should he? Same thing for Quintana. Rodriguez and Bardet fought for the polka-dot, but they had no chance because Froome and Quintana with a GPM that try to reward the best climber. In a Tour with a bit of crosswind, a bit of cobblestones, a bit of time trials and a lot of uphhill finishes I don’ t need the GM to understand who is the strongest in the mountains – itś FRoome and Quintana. The yellow jesrey don’ t need the polka-dot. If there is a GPM it deserves a rulebook that allows winning riders the competition that are interested in winning it – as Rodriguez and Bardet -, even if they are not the strongest climbers, but only strong climbers in attack mode not waiting for the last climb. A GPM that rewards only the stage winner and the yellow jersey is just boring.

          • J Evans Friday, 6 November 2015, 10:49 am

            Precisely.
            It’s not about harking back to some halcyon past, it’s about making the competition worth something in its own right.

          • Rik VII Friday, 6 November 2015, 11:01 am

            ehm: … 50 pts for an hors categorie 20 pts for a 1st category uphill finish …

  • XNight Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 7:18 pm

    Could it be, though, that without weighting the points on the final climb that the complete opposite happens – a Daniel Teklehaimanot bags early climbs each stage and then drifts off to save himself for the next day ala Tour de Criterium for instance ?
    Even bearing in mind Inner Ring’s point about fighting to get the breakaway, I am not wholly convinced in the merits of an achievement such as the above.
    Teklehaimanot bore absolutely no threat to GC, was nowhere near winning a stage, and finished almost 1.5 hours down on the eventual race winner.
    I think a GC winner taking the KoM Jersey as an aside award is still preferable to this.

    • XNight Wednesday, 4 November 2015, 7:21 pm

      *Criterium de Dauphine* (sigh, it’s been a long day).

  • Shawn Thursday, 5 November 2015, 12:38 am

    Another possible factor I haven’t seen mentioned for why the mts. competition is less compelling in recent years is that today so many strong climbers who aren’t real GC contenders all tend to be paid extremely well by a few teams to be climbing domestiques. Today’s equivalents of “Charly Gaul, Federico Bahamontes, Lucien Van Impe, Luis Herrera, Robert Millar and Thierry Claveyrolat et al.” are not free to chase the polka dots but are lined up to set a vicious pace for GC riders up the mountains. Maybe it’s not the rules but the economics of the sport that are undermining this competition?

  • MattF Thursday, 5 November 2015, 5:03 am

    Just leave the polka dot jersey be. A truly irrelevant competition is for the young rider’s white jersey. This is the big league for crying out loud. One isn’t awarded a consolation medal at the Olympics for being the youngest finisher. It’s a joke.

  • IanPa Thursday, 5 November 2015, 8:13 am

    ASO employ Hinault, Lemond wanders around, Indurain is at the race, Robert Millar will appear around tour time, Van Impe has his opinions, lets not forget Kelly, Roche… the list goes on…. all riders from the era when the split of competitions was more defined and gave us more logical winners in each competition.

    Why don’t ASO just ask them?

  • Jonnie Thursday, 5 November 2015, 8:56 am

    This seesm to be an issue for the tour alone. I cant remeber the last time the GC winner in the Vuelta or Giro also landed the KOM. What are they doing differently as both races are normally stacked in favour of the climbers.

    • J Evans Thursday, 5 November 2015, 12:14 pm

      They don’t have double points for the final climbs on stages, so the big points aren’t hoovered up by the GC riders.
      Mind you, the flip side of that is the example of Fraile’s uncontested stroll to the KoM in the Vuelta.